Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 14:39 UK

Tomato dishes 'may protect skin'

Spaghetti Bolognese
Could spaghetti bolognese have anti-ageing properties?

Pizza and spaghetti bolognese could become new tools in the fight against sunburn and wrinkles, a study suggests.

A team found adding five tablespoons of tomato paste to the daily diet of 10 volunteers improved the skin's ability to protect against harmful UV rays.

Damage from these rays can lead to premature ageing and even skin cancer.

The study, presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology, suggested the antioxidant lycopene was behind the apparent benefit.

This component of tomatoes - found at its highest concentration when the fruit has been cooked - has already been linked to a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.

Now researchers at the universities of Manchester and Newcastle have suggested it may also help ward off skin damage by providing some protection against the effects of UV rays.

Anti-ageing paste?

They gave 10 volunteers around 55g of standard tomato paste - which contains high levels of cooked tomatoes - and 10g of olive oil daily. A further 10 participants received just the olive oil.

Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun, but it may be a useful addition to the sun protection tool box
Professor Mark Birch-Machin
Newcastle University

After three months, skin samples from the tomato group showed they had 33% more protection against sunburn - the equivalent of a very low factor sun cream - and much higher levels of procollagen, a molecule which gives the skin its structure and keeps its firm.

"The tomato diet boosted the level of procollagen in the skin significantly. These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin ageing process," said Professor Lesley Rhodes, a dermatologist at the University of Manchester.

"These weren't huge amounts of tomato we were feeding the group. It was the sort of quantity you would easily manage if you were eating a lot of tomato-based meals."

There was a warning however that tomatoes should be viewed as a "helpful addition" rather than an alternative to sun cream.

The study was both small and short, and the team are now looking at carrying out fresh research into the benefits of lycopene for the skin.

Dr Colin Holden of the British Association of Dermatologists said: "While the protection offered by lycopene is low, this research suggests that a diet containing high levels of antioxidant rich tomatoes could provide an extra tool in sun protection".

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